Underworld: Awakening Tops Box Office with $25.4 Million

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Sony’s vampire sequel Underworld: Awakening with Kate Beckinsale and Lucasfilm/Fox’s Red Tails each had solid openings to help propel the North American box office to big earnings this weekend, despite NFL Division Championship games on Sunday and winter weather finally making its presence known across the country. The two openings along with solid holdovers pushed the box office a whopping 32% higher than last year at this time when No Strings Attached debuted with $19.7 million.

After sitting out the previous installment save for a brief cameo just before the credits, the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, actress Kate Beckinsale donned that skintight leather outfit once again for the fourth chapter of the Underworld saga, Underworld: Awakening. By adding 3D and IMAX to the mix, the Sony/Screen Gems horror film earned an estimated $25.4 million from 3,078 screens for a solid per screen average of $8,252. As has been the case with the other films in the series, critics panned the film but fans of the series showed their approval not only with their wallets but also with a CinemaScore rating of A-. The opening ranks as the second highest of the series, right behind the $26 million opening of 2006’s Underworld: Evolution.

The Tuskeegee Airmen commanded the second spot on this week’s top ten with the better-than-expected bow of Lucasfilm/Fox’s World War II drama Red Tails. The movie, produced by Star Wars creator George Lucas, earned a good $19.1 million in estimated sales from 2,512 theaters for a per screen average of $7,604. Like the Underworld sequel, Red Tails was disliked by critics but approved by ticket buyers. The film jumped a healthy 43% in business on Saturday, a sign that those who went opening night may be spreading the positive buzz needed to turn the movie into a sleeper hit. The film stars Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. and was directed by Anthony Hemingway.

After smuggling over $25 million in the number one spot last weekend, Mark Wahlberg’s action flick Contraband eased back to the number three position while dropping by 50%. Still smuggling on 2,870 screens, the movie earned an estimated $12.2 million to bring its ten-day total to the $46 million mark. The movie should finish its run with a respectable $65-70 million.

After playing one month of exclusive runs in New York and Los Angeles, the Warner drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close opened across North America -and ahead of this upcoming week’s Oscar nomination announcement-to merely okay numbers. Upping its screen count to 2,630 theaters, the Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock 9/11-themed drama earned an estimated $10.5 million this weekend. After five weeks, the Stephen Daldry-directed film has earned $11.3 million so far. The mediocre opening represents the second lukewarm opening for the usually reliable actor following last summer’s Larry Crowne.

In fifth place was Relativity’s action flick Haywire directed by Steven Soderbergh. The Gina Carano espionage thriller got plenty of love from the critics but not a whole lot from ticket buyers as evidenced by the weak $9 million opening on 2,439 screens. The film also stars Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Michael Fassbender. Normally, I would say that there is the chance that viewer word-of-mouth would sustain the film, but the movie received a ‘D+’ from CinemaScore, which doesn’t bode well for the film’s theatrical longevity.

Outside of the top ten, the Weinstein Company opened their Oscar frontrunner The Artist to 663 theaters but found mixed results. Despite winning the Golden Globe for Best Picture (comedy/musical) and the Producer’s Guild for Best Picture on Saturday night, the movie could only muster an estimated $2.4 million this weekend. After nine weeks, the film has earned $12.1 million in domestic sales. The film should see a spike in sales next weekend following the Oscar nomination announcement on Tuesday.

The remainder of the top ten is as follows:

6. Beauty and the Beast 3D (Disney) $8.5 million (-52%) $33.3 million to date.

7. Joyful Noise (Warner Brothers) $6 million (-46%) $22 million

8. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Paramount) $5.5 million (-53%) $197.3 million

9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Brothers) $4.8 million (-44%) $178.6 million

10. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (Sony/MGM) $3.75 million (-44%) $94.7 million

Next weekend, Open Road Pictures debuts the Liam Neeson survival drama The Grey, Summit will open the Sam Worthington flick Man on a Ledge, Lionsgate will open the Katherine Heigl action comedy One for the Money and Fox Searchlight will finally go wide with their Oscar hopeful The Descendants, which has quietly earned $50 million so far in limited release since debuting in mid-November.

- Shawn Fitzgerald

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